The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nearly half of Americans believe Trump tried to obstruct the Russia investigation

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Jan. 23 that President Trump "is going to be fully cooperative with the special counsel." (Video: Reuters, Photo: Andrew Harrer/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

President Trump regularly claims that there was “no collusion” between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia to interfere in the election.

Just Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was pressed on what the president means when he says “no collusion.”

“The accusation against the president is that he had help winning the election, and that’s simply untrue. The president won because he was the better candidate, because he worked harder, because he had a message that America actually cared about and believed in and came out in a historic fashion and supported and voted for him,” Sanders said.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported, and The Washington Post later confirmed, that Trump wanted to fire Robert S. Mueller III, who is leading the Russia probe, in June after news reports that the special counsel was investigating potential obstruction of justice. The president only backed off after White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn threatened to resign in protest.

On Friday in Davos, Trump called the reports “fake news. ”

“Typical New York Times. Fake stories,” he said.

The news comes as after a Washington Post-ABC poll found nearly half — 49 percent — of Americans believe Trump himself tried to interfere with the Russia investigation in a way that amounts to obstruction of justice. And about a quarter — 26 percent — of Americans believe there is “strong evidence” supporting their belief.

And half of Americans believe the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, according to the poll.

Mueller III is seeking to question the president in the coming weeks about his decisions to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with his plans, The Post reported. The potential Trump interviews come amid the broader inquiry into the wide-ranging investigation that has already led to charges against four former Trump advisers.

The move indicates that Mueller’s investigation is aggressively scrutinizing possible efforts by Trump to interfere in the special counsel’s probe.

As expected, the majority of groups that have consistently been critical of Trump, such as liberals, African Americans and millennials, believe Trump’s behavior could have been obstruction of justice.

But so do groups such as independents — swing voters that Trump relied on to get elected. More than half — 51 percent — believe that Trump directly tried to interfere in the investigation.

Trump often blasts his political opponents for supporting the investigation, pointing to their bitterness over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s loss as their primary motivation.

But he seems to believe that the public agrees with him that the idea of a “Russian hoax,” meaning the investigation, is dead. He tweeted:

“Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news, but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative. The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems. Public gets it!”

But sizable percentages of the demographic groups that helped elect Trump think Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, including:

  • More than a quarter — 27 percent — of Americans who identify as “conservative.”
  • More than a third — 36 percent — of white non-college Americans.
  • More than four in 10 — 43 percent — of Americans 65 and older believe Trump interfered.
  • More than a third — 36 percent — of white men believe he interfered.

Trump’s historically low approval ratings aren’t just because the people who voted against him in 2016 remain critical of the president’s vision for America. The president is struggling to keep those who voted for him to continue to support him.

It is common for lawmakers running for reelection to focus on expanding their base. But these latest poll numbers show that the president may have to spend significant time convincing his supporters that he and his campaign did not collude with another world power to  influence the outcome of a presidential election.